According to Gartner, regulated industry customers (such as finance and healthcare) and governments are looking for digital borders. Companies in these sectors are looking to reduce vendor lock-in and single points of failure with their cloud providers, whose data centers sometimes are also outside their country (e.g., Switzerland based customer with an AWS data center in Frankfurt).
The market for cloud technology and services is currently dominated by US and Asian cloud providers and many (European) companies store their data in these regions. There are European regions and data centers, but the geopolitical and legal challenges, concerns about data control, industry compliance and sovereignty are driving the creation of new national clouds.
That is why Gartner sees sovereign clouds as one of the emerging technologies, which is currently at the start of the August 2021 published hype cycle:
Use Case 1 – Swiss Federal Administration
As an example and first use case I would mention the Swiss federal administration, which doesn’t see the need for an independent technical infrastructure under public law.
In June 2021 they published the statement that they notified the following cloud providers to become part of the federal administration’s initial multi-cloud architecture:
- Amazon Web Services (AWS)
There are several reasons (pricing, market share, local data center availability) that led to this decision to build a multi-cloud architecture with these cloud providers. But it was interesting to read that the government did an assessment and concluded that no technical independent infrastructure is needed – no need for a local sovereign cloud.
This means that they want to keep their existing data centers to provide infrastructure and data sovereignty.
Interestingly, the Swiss confederation is exploring initiatives for secure and trustworthy data infrastructure for Europe and is examining participation in GAIA-X.
Use Case 2 – Current Sovereign Cloud Providers
There are other examples where organizations and governments saw the need for a sovereign cloud. Having a public cloud provider’s data center in the same country does not necessarily mean, that it’s a sovereign cloud per se. Hyperscale clouds often rely on non-domestic resources that maintain their data centers or provide customer support.
Governments and regulated industries say that you need domestic resources to provide a true sovereign cloud.
A good example here is the UK government, who has chosen the provider UKCloud, that delivers a consistent experience that spans the edge, private cloud and sovereign cloud.
Another VMware sovereign cloud provider is AUCloud, who provides IaaS to the Australian government, defense, defense industries and Critical National Industry (CNI) communities.
The third example I would like to highlight is Saudi Telecom Company (STC), that brings sovereign cloud services to Saudi Arabia.
What do UKCloud, AUCloud and STC have in common? They all joined the pretty new VMware Sovereign Cloud initiative and built their sovereign clouds based on VMware technology.
Use Case 3 – Cloud Act
Another motivation for a sovereign cloud could be the Cloud Act, which is a U.S. law that gives American authorities unrestricted access to the data of American IT cloud providers. It does not matter where the data is effectively stored. In the event of a criminal prosecution, the authorities have a free hand and do not even have to notify the data owners.
What does this mean for cloud users? Because of the Cloud Act, they cannot be sure whether when and to what extent their data or the data of their customers will be read by foreign authorities.
Use Case 4 – GAIA-X
Let me quote the official explanation of GAIA-X:
The architecture of Gaia-X is based on the principle of decentralization. Gaia-X is the result of many individual data owners (users) and technology players (providers) – all adopting a common standard of rules and control mechanisms – the Gaia-X standard.
Together, we are developing a new concept of data infrastructure ecosystem, based on the values of openness, transparency, sovereignty, and interoperability, to enable trust. What emerges is not a new cloud physical infrastructure, but a software federation system that can connect several cloud service providers and data owners together to ensure data exchange in a trusted environment and boost the creation of new common data spaces to create digital economy.
Gaia-X aims to mitigate Europe’s dependency on non-European providers and there seems to be no pre-defined architecture or preferred vendor when it comes to the underlying cloud platform GAIA-X sits on top.
While one would believe that a sovereign cloud is mandatory for GAIA-X, it looks more like a cloud-agnostic data exchange platform hosted by European providers and customers.
I am curious how providers build, operate and maintain a sovereign cloud stack based on open-source software.
How real is the need for Sovereign Cloud?
If a company or government wants to keep, extend, and maintain their own local data centers, this is still a valid option of course. But the above examples showed that the need for sovereign clouds exists and that the global interest seems to be growing.
What is the VMware Sovereign Cloud Initiative?
In October 2021 VMware announced their VMware Sovereign Cloud initiative where they partnering with cloud service providers to deliver a sovereign cloud infrastructure with cloud services on top to customers in regulated industries.
To become a so-called VMware Sovereign Cloud Provider, partners must go through an assessment and meet specific requirements (framework) to show their capability to provide a sovereign cloud infrastructure.
VMware defines a sovereign cloud as one that:
- Protects and unlocks the value of critical data (e.g., national data, corporate data, and personal data) for both private and public sector organizations
- Delivers a national capability for the digital economy
- Secures data with audited security controls
- Ensures compliance with data privacy laws
- Improves control of data by providing both data residency and data sovereignty with full jurisdictional control
VMware aims to help regulated industry and government customers to execute their cloud strategies by connecting them to VMware Sovereign Cloud Providers (like UKCloud, AUcloud, STC, Tietoevry, ThinkOn or OVHcloud).
Sovereign Cloud Providers in Switzerland
Currently, there is no official VMware sovereign cloud provider in Switzerland. We have a few and strong VMware cloud provider partners as part of the VMware Cloud Provider Program (VCPP):
- Netstream AG
- Cyberlink AG
- EveryWare AG
- UMB AG
- Swisscom AG
- MTF Swiss Cloud AG
- Point Solutions AG
- Tinext SA
- Rey Informatik AG
Let us come back to the use case 1 with the Swiss federal administration. They are building a multi-cloud and would have in Switzerland a potential number of at least 10 cloud service providers, which could become an official VMware Sovereign Cloud Provider.
There are other Swiss providers who are building a sovereign cloud based on open-source technologies like OpenStack.
Hyperscalers like Microsoft or Google need to partner with local providers if they want to build a sovereign cloud and deliver services.
VMware already has 4300+ partners with the strategic partnerships and the same technology stack in 120+ countries and some of them are already sovereign cloud providers as mentioned before.
What are the biggest challenges with a multi-cloud and a sovereign cloud infrastructure?
What do you think are the biggest challenges of an organization that builds a multi-cloud with different public cloud providers and sovereign clouds?
Let me list a few questions here:
- How can I easily migrate my workloads to the public or sovereign cloud?
- How long does it take to migrate my applications?
- Which cloud is the right one for a specific workload?
- Do I need to refactor some of my applications?
- How can I consistently manage and operate 5 different public/sovereign cloud providers?
- What if I one of my cloud providers is not strategic anymore? How can I build a cloud exit strategy?
- How do I implement and maintain security?
- What if I want to migrate workloads back from a public cloud to an on-premises (sovereign) cloud?
- Which Kubernetes am I going to use in all these different clouds?
- How do I manage and monitor all these different Kubernetes clusters, networking and security policies, create secure application communication between clouds and so on?
- How do I control costs?
These are just a small number of questions, but I think it would take your organization or your cloud platform team a while to come up with a solution.
What is the VMware approach? Let me list some other articles of mine that help you to better understand the VMware multi-cloud approach:
- VMware Multi-Cloud and Hyperscale Computing
- A Universal License and Technology to Build a Flexible Multi-Cloud
- VMware Cloud Foundation And The Cloud Management Platform Simply Explained
- VMware Cloud Foundation – A Technical Overview
- VMware Cloud on AWS – The Power of VMware and AWS
- Introduction to Alibaba Cloud VMware Solution (ACVS)
- VMware is Becoming a Leading Cybersecurity Vendor
Public cloud providers build local data centers and provide data residency. Sovereign clouds provide data sovereignty. Resident data may be accessed by a foreign authority while data sovereignty refers to data being subject to privacy laws and governance structures within the nation where that data is collected.
Controlling the location and access of data in the cloud has become an important task for CIOs and CISOs and I personally believe that sovereign clouds are not becoming important in 2 or 3 years, they are already very important and relevant, and we can expect a growth in this area in the next months.
My conclusion here is, that sovereign clouds and the public clouds are not competitors, they complement each other.